By Michele Bigley
Otherwise known as the Garden Isle, Kauai typically lures travelers wanting to immerse themselves into a landscape where even the street signs are draped in greenery. While travelers often soak up the rays on Poipu Beach, tee off in Princeville, or shop in Hanalei, insiders make a beeline for the less-visited sunny West Shore to surf the island’s best breaks, explore epic beaches, hike the 3,567-foot deep Waimea Canyon (pictured above), and experience the true aloha spirit of the Hawaii’s northern-most isle. Here are some of the overlooked West Side’s top destinations, sure to show you another side of the island you thought you knew.
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Typically visitors motor through Waimea on the way to Waimea Canyon, briefly pausing to honor the destination where Captain James Cook and his crew docked his ships, bringing weaponry and syphilis to the native Hawaiians, who, believing he was the god Lono returning on a floating island, canoed out to the ships with an abundance of fresh food (and an array of excitable women). These days the locals may not be as welcoming, but the aloha spirit lives on in this western town. The West Kauai Technology and Visitor Center offers free historic walking tours of Waimea at 9:30 am on Mondays (reservations required). Also by reservation, on Fridays (March-November), local aunties teach lei- and poi-making classes.
An Undiscovered Beach
As long as you can overlook the eyesore of a drive to Salt Pond Beach Park, a hidden windsurfing beach, you’ll be greeted with one of the consistently sunniest stretches of shore, complete with an enclosed rock pool for keikis, monk seals, and one of the finest windsurf areas on the island. The grassy area offers plenty of shade and areas for barbecuing, and in summer months you can watch native Hawaiians harvest salt from the ponds. Afterward, motor over to Hanapepe to stroll along the historic town, cross the swinging bridge, and shop for koa wood products. Try to schedule your visit on Friday to enjoy Hanapepe’s Art Night—if you do so, reserve a table at Hanapepe Café where you can listen to live slack-key guitar as you dine on yummy pasta dishes.
Where to Eat
Aside from Hanapepe Café, most consider the food on the West Shore to be mediocre at best; however the appearance of Mele’s Kusina food truck now lures foodies from Poipu wanting plate lunch, fish tacos, and fried ice cream that won’t cost $39.99. Auntie Mele parks near the suspension bridge in Hanapepe on Monday-Thursdays 10:00 am-2:30 pm and stays until 8:30 pm on Fridays for Hanapepe Art Night. The pulled pork plate lunch draws repeat visitors. All dishes $7.
Where to Stay
Most visitors who make it this far west enjoy the lovely Waimea Plantation Cottages (which live up to their reputation, and were awarded a spot in the Fodor’s 100 Hotel Awards last year), yet few know about the tasteful tropical themed B&B, Hale Puka’Ana, which means House of the Hawaiian Sunset. Lovingly owned by Patrick and Jules McLean, the three suites sit just across the street from the ocean and feature stunning Travertine tiled baths, cherry and bamboo wood floors, and sophisticated décor without being stuffy. Couples wanting to escape the masses will enjoy the outdoor bar, full breakfast, private entrance, tropical fruit smoothie welcome, beachfront yoga classes, and low-key ambiance. Rooms start at $169/night.
Save your souvenir shopping for the ABC Stores in Kapaa or Lihue, where you can pick up coffee, spirits, shirts, and macadamia nuts at a more reasonable price.
Thinking of a trip to Hawaii?
For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, as well as the best planning advice, check out our Hawaii Travel Guide.